If you think African dance is all about traditional rituals, talking drums and dynamic energy, think again. Here’s a man dressed as a woman, hamming it up to the hilt as he rails against an unfaithful husband and tells God to mind his own business. Aseju (Excess) is the first work by Bode Lawal (the guy in women’s clothes) following his return to the UK after a sabbatical in the US – and it shows him to be energised, irreverent and brash.
all the expansive pump and roll of his body seems to have been compressed into his tautly swivelling buttocks
Lawal, who founded his company Sakoba in 1987, can certainly choreograph traditional African forms when he wants to. In the first half of the show, for example, he shows off his dancers’ impressively sharp technical skills in abstract compositions that highlight the pump of their shoulders and the roll and twist of their limbs about their spines. It’s a lively exposition of his base material – on which he then builds a series of more narrative scenarios about aspects of modern urban life: commuting, job-hunting, clubbing, going to the gym. So in each section you sense the stylistic root and also see how Lawal adapts it for the theatre. Rhythms are evened out into steady pulses for the club scene. In an outrageously provocative podium dance, with Lawal dressed in the tiniest black PVC shorts, all the expansive pump and roll of his body seems to have been compressed into his tautly swivelling buttocks.
Lawal seems much better at starting sections than at ending them. Yet the work is made vivid by the confident, versatile and physically expressive dancers, and enhanced by the live percussionists. Despite its flaws, the lasting impression is of a fresh, populist and often mischievous piece that is much more direct and entertaining than the pontificating programme notes would have you believe.